Across the Bay

Saturday, March 05, 2005

He Don't Get It

Naharnet highlights parts of Bashar's speech today:

President Assad said Saturday the Syrian army will stage a total withdrawal from Lebanon to reassemble in the Bekaa Valley and then pull back to the immediate Syrian-Lebanese borderline.
In a dramatic speech to the Syrian parliament Assad said he agreed with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud to hold a summit conference 'this week' to lay down the final arrangement for the 2-stage withdrawal.

"Once this process is completed Syria will have fulfilled its commitment under the 1989 Taef accord and implemented U.N. Resolution 1559," Assad said.

It's so obvious what he's doing, just as it is obvious that he's not paying attention to what world leaders are saying. He's still playing games. He's trying to use his summit with Lahoud as the implementation of the "negotiations" between the two government stipulated by the Taef about the redeployment. I.e., he wants to make this arrangement permanent so that no one can bring up the Taef anymore. The problem is, beside the obvious lack of mention of the secret services, that Lahoud is not the representative government! Furthermore, there's still that little thing called UNSCR 1559, which outrules the Taef!

Frankly, I'm not sure how he thinks anyone is going to fall for this. This flies against what everyone has been saying. The opposition is not going to agree to Lahoud legitimizing this obvious trick, especially when the secret services are not mentioned (the opposition has less of a problem with the troops). Naharnet however notes that "there were press reports shortly before he began his one-hour address that Syria's main intelligence center at Beirut's Beau Rivage hotel was pulling out escorted by Lebanese army commando troops." See for more on activity going on at the Beau Rivage. But if this is not formalized, it creates a loophole.

Two of the oppositions' demands were the withdrawal of secret service and that the negotiation be with a free sovereign government, not Lahoud!

Speaking of Lahoud, he has also rejected the demand of the opposition of firing all the heads of the main Lebanese security and intelligence services. He has also threatened that he will form a cabinet of "confrontation" that will "smother" the opposition and ban protests by force. This means that Bashar is sticking by Lahoud, even as he concedes a bit on the ground.

Naharnet quoted reports that said "some Lebanese opposition leaders may go along with the Bekaa concept provided Syria's secret services are withdrawn altogether from every inch of Lebanon." This would be the compromise regarding Syria retaining a small symbolic garrison in the Bekaa as "early warning stations" against an Israeli invasion (!). Actually, as Josh noted, it might be more related to later negotiation with Israel on the Golan.

But with Bashar sticking by Lahoud, negotiating the Taef with him, not a freely elected government, and without a formal agreement regarding the Syrian mukhabarat, or the resignation of the Lebanese officers, I don't see how the opposition is going to accept this.

This is not to say anything about the international community, namely France and the US. The US has rejected any notion of "phased" withdrawal, and both Chirac and Bush "preempted" Asad's speech by repeating demands for full, comprehensive, and immediate withdrawal, no "half-measures," no games, and all before the elections (which is why he wants to fix the summit with Lahoud "this week" to finalize the Taef accord). Apparently, bub don't get it (the intenational community wasn't working on the basis of the Taef, but UNR 1559!!!). And, from the looks of things with Lahoud, they're planning on digging in, and getting nasty.

Let's see how the world reacts.

Update: I heard about the gunfire. They were pro-Syrian cronies who drove to Ashrafieh and insulted people and started shooting. Thankfully, no casualties were reported. As Michael said, the only thing Asad has is violence. That's what I repeated here as well. He's once again not paying any attention to the world, and he's digging in, supporting his man Lahoud, and basically threatening that if no compromise is reached, he will burn his way out. He said something about withdrawing fully only if there's consensus in Beirut (the old line). Which leads me to believe that he and his Lebanese cronies are going to stage things to show the opposite. Those cronies will get violent, just to show that they're serious. They want to push the opposition into a "conciliatory government" that Bashar would still be able to control, or at least limit, through his people. The talk about fulfilling the Taef is going to be signed by the Higher Syrian-Lebanese Security Council, which is a bogus Syrian tool. I.e., it will be resolved outside the government, let alone a freely elected and truly sovereign government. So just as he's digging in and consolidating his power in Syria with crackdowns and appointments of family members, he's doing the same, making sure everything is set before the redeployment. That includes these violent acts, a reminder of what lies ahead if people don't cooperate. He's probably banking that this will split Lebanese opinion, and even split the opposition, as many are wary of the eruption of instigated violence. And everyone knows, as that piece by Khodr mentions, that any violence that erupts now will clearly be Syrian or loyalist-instigated.

This leads me once again to ask, what is the world going to do about this? What are they prepared to do? How can you deal with such a regime? What's the mechanism that ensures that they leave with their secret service and their cronies, so that a truly free government can be elected? Because essentially, Bashar hasn't changed anything since he ordered the murder of Hariri! The challenge he issued to the world stands!

Update 2: I've read some more stuff on the Asad speech, including the part where he said that no peace will be reached in the ME unless the Golan was returned to Syria. He's not about to get out of Lebanon without guarantees on the Golan, plain and simple. To do that would really mean the end for him, and he's not about to face that without putting up a nasty fight. This is what an unnamed former minister of the outgoing government told An-Nahar. Bashar wants a "road map" of his own. Again, let's see what the world thinks. The US is clearly not impressed, neither really is France. But what will they do? That's the question.